On judging street photography....

Started Sep 10, 2011 | Discussions
Kitacanon Senior Member • Posts: 2,802
On judging street photography....

The following exchange took place recently between OP who posted a photo of woman in the street....and a respondent's view of the photo....

First, the response to the photo:

Sorry, but not a particularly good shot.The lighting is very harsh, and her pose and facial expression are not at all flattering. The clutter of the background is quite distracting as well.

The photographer's reply:

If you don't like it you are not required to say you are sorry. My view is you are using studio standards to judge street photography. That is your opinion, I differ.

Aside from judging the particular photo...and differing opinions about "flattering" poses and expressions aside as well...

....a few questions came to my mind:

1. Are there "standards" for judging street photography regarding lighting, and backgrounds?

2. What are those "studio standards" OP is referring to?

3. Are street photography standards different than those used to judge studio photography?

I thought the exchange might make for an interesting discussion about the nature of street photography. What do you think?

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Digirame Forum Pro • Posts: 39,992
Re: On judging street photography....

This is highly subjective. What I've done when getting back people's opinions, is look for the consensus of opinions. First we have to please ourselves, then we have to decide whether we want to please the most number of other people.

I take lots of street photos and I still don't like distracting elements, harsh colors or extreme lighting contrasts, poor composition, poor image quality, or wasted backgrounds. It's a matter of saying, could we have taken a better photo? Yes, the street has lots of distractions (unlike a controlled environment in a studio), uneven colors, fast moving subjects, poor lighting, and backgrounds we often don't get to pick. But again, the question is...could we have done better?

jpr2 Forum Pro • Posts: 15,554
re: "studio standards" are certainly NOT applicable to SP...

...after all the very name Street Photography was coined to distinguish
it from static & posed work in studios. The SP criteria:

  • unposed, natural candidness, individual expressions and interactions;

  • good composition;

  • meaningful, uncluttered BGs;

  • good tonality (esp. important for B&W) and lighting;

  • no fancy effects: partial desaturation (and esp. fads like a selective desaturation), excesses of HDR, slanted views done for a sake of infusing picts. with "dynamism", etc.

jpr2
--
~
street candids (non-interactive):
http://www.flickriver.com/photos/qmusaget/sets/72157609618638319/
music and dance:
http://www.flickriver.com/photos/qmusaget/sets/72157600341265280/
B&W:
http://www.flickriver.com/photos/qmusaget/sets/72157623306407882/
wildlife & macro:
http://www.flickriver.com/photos/qmusaget/sets/72157600341377106/
interactive street:
http://www.flickriver.com/photos/qmusaget/sets/72157623181919323/

Comments and critique are always welcome!
~

MarcovM Regular Member • Posts: 497
Re: On judging street photography....

I have seen photographs that were blurry, bad composed, had bad exposure and were full of clutter and still they were good photographs. Why ? because something in the frame made the image speak. Rules are guidelines not laws, learn the rules only to break them in finding your own style.
Marco

Kitacanon wrote:

The following exchange took place recently between OP who posted a photo of woman in the street....and a respondent's view of the photo....

First, the response to the photo:

Sorry, but not a particularly good shot.The lighting is very harsh, and her pose and facial expression are not at all flattering. The clutter of the background is quite distracting as well.

The photographer's reply:

If you don't like it you are not required to say you are sorry. My view is you are using studio standards to judge street photography. That is your opinion, I differ.

Aside from judging the particular photo...and differing opinions about "flattering" poses and expressions aside as well...

....a few questions came to my mind:

1. Are there "standards" for judging street photography regarding lighting, and backgrounds?

2. What are those "studio standards" OP is referring to?

3. Are street photography standards different than those used to judge studio photography?

I thought the exchange might make for an interesting discussion about the nature of street photography. What do you think?

Bob Meyer Veteran Member • Posts: 5,375
re: "studio standards" are certainly NOT applicable to SP...

jpr2 wrote:

...after all the very name Street Photography was coined to distinguish
it from static & posed work in studios. The SP criteria:

  • unposed, natural candidness, individual expressions and interactions;

  • good composition;

  • meaningful, uncluttered BGs;

  • good tonality (esp. important for B&W) and lighting;

  • no fancy effects: partial desaturation (and esp. fads like a selective desaturation), excesses of HDR, slanted views done for a sake of infusing picts. with "dynamism", etc.

FWIW, I think these are overly restrictive. Cluttered backgrounds can, in some cases, add to the impact of the photo and provide valuable environmental info. Yes, a background that distracts from the primary subject probably isn't good, but in other cases the background might BE the subject.

Define "good" tonality. High contrast, low key and high key photographs are all valid styles, and each can contribute to the impact of particular images.

I pretty much agree with your comment on selective desaturation, but still think there are occasional subjects where it works. Especially if the effect is subtle, rather than in-your-face.

Not sure if I understand what you mean by "slanted views." I think you mean photos taken from non-traditional angles with the camera other than level. If so, I disagree again. Any shot which is visually interesting and provides an different insight or view of the subject can be legitimate. I've seen some "slanted" shots that become almost abstract art.

Rules are made to be broken. To me, street photography can cover a wide range of styles and topics. A good photo can be good because it's visually pleasing (composition, lighting, color, etc.) or because it opens your eyes to something you didn't know before, or because it tells a story. A high contrast, grainy B&W image may not be great from a technical POV, but that "look" can add a lot of impact to images of homeless people, or drug addicts, as but one example.

So I would say that yes, the standards for judging street photography are different than those for studio photography. But even studio portrait photography can cover a wider gamut than the perfectly lit, beautiful portraits of beautiful people with smooth skin and perfect exposure that people associate with the term. Just look at some of the images by Yousef Karsh, Philipe Halsman and Annie Leibovitz.

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Digirame Forum Pro • Posts: 39,992
re: "studio standards" are certainly NOT applicable to SP...

A few of my photos were of posed subjects, but it was spur-of-the-moment poses. They saw me with my camera, and either asked that I take a picture of them, or they just posed for me. I consider that street photography too. There were times I was walking along the street or at the beach, and all of a sudden I get this photo opportunity that was completely unplanned. Sometimes I only get a few seconds, where they will pose for me, so I have to be quick and make sure that I don't mess up the settings. Sometimes I take candid pictures of people posing for another photographer. Would you consider that street photography as well?

Here they were posing for the other ladies by the river at our city, using a small camera or cell phone. It was so funny, the way they tried to pose. I had to take the photos.

Olympus E-510, Zuiko 70-300mm lens, ISO400, F11, 1/500, 300mm FL (600mm EFL)

jpr2 Forum Pro • Posts: 15,554
Bob: the best rule for SP is...

...that there are no rules indeed:
http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1029&message=34530556
Another thing is that our criteria are all quite subjective - and this is
a fact not an opinion :P. So... asking for rules of SP is [of course]
asking for trouble :D.

Bob Meyer wrote:

Define "good" tonality. High contrast, low key and high key photographs are all valid styles, and each can contribute to the impact of particular images.

indeed!! btw. who says that HK or LK images are not good tonality?
For me a perfect high key stretches through almost impossibly rich
planes and shades of only slightly grayed whites

Rules are made to be broken. To me, street photography can cover a wide range of styles and topics. A good photo can be good because it's visually pleasing (composition, lighting, color, etc.) or because it opens your eyes to something you didn't know before, or because it tells a story. A high contrast, grainy B&W image may not be great from a technical POV, but that "look" can add a lot of impact to images

agreed again! actually not even a "story" is necessary if the image has
a high visual impact - provided... that it wasn't done for the sake of
an impact alone. Also, all too often we see various faults, and [sadly]
rather frequently a vice of sloppiness is dressed as a virtue of creativity :(.
And this IMO is applicable to perhaps 99% of slanted shots = only
exceedingly rare are cases when slant has a reason, a good reason
when it actually supports an image, rather than murdering it through
introducing a blatant distraction.

jpr2
--
~
street candids (non-interactive):
http://www.flickriver.com/photos/qmusaget/sets/72157609618638319/
music and dance:
http://www.flickriver.com/photos/qmusaget/sets/72157600341265280/
B&W:
http://www.flickriver.com/photos/qmusaget/sets/72157623306407882/
wildlife & macro:
http://www.flickriver.com/photos/qmusaget/sets/72157600341377106/
interactive street:
http://www.flickriver.com/photos/qmusaget/sets/72157623181919323/

Comments and critique are always welcome!
~

(unknown member) Senior Member • Posts: 1,471
There are good duck photographers just as there are bad

I think in that exchange the 'judge' was trying to improve the OP's CHOICE of picture rather than technique. The core of street is the extraction of an image that captures the eye or the heart, its as simple as that. The photographer in your story failed at both.

There are good duck photographers just as there are bad but because going down the street is a shorter walk and you don't need to lug a canoe is explanation for why there are less bad duck photographers than there are bad street photographers.

The OP was explaining without being rude that maybe the subject was a poor choice. Cluttered background, harsh light and yet the photographer still chose to post it.

Rules, no they don't apply and the challenge is to break them. If you break them enough in art ...thats called style.

Someone told me once that this wasn't even a street photo ..they seem to know the rules better than I do (grin)

Ant
ɹǝpun uʍop puɐl ǝɥʇ ɯoɹɟ
http://oneant.com.au

OP Kitacanon Senior Member • Posts: 2,802
Re: There are good duck photographers just as there are bad

Great shot oneANT....

I want to thank you all for the time you've given to this discussion, and feel I should offer a thought...

If the photographer has to explain the shot (or why it was taken) then something is missing...

The impact of a photo comes from a sense of INTENT....weak photos seem random moments that don't communicate why the photo was taken (not to be confused with why the photographer took the photo...)

i.e. the photo's message is distinct from that of the photographer's...when it transcends the photographer, the moment becomes art

I think visual impact may be the key, as oneANT's shot surely does....great street photography transcends the mundane, even when shooting the mundane...and to do so the photographer must excercise even greater discipline than in the studio...

The photographer can't use "reality" as an excuse for an incoherent uncomposed sense of randomness that the street seems to those NOT observing with such discipline, and photographing...

Keep ideas coming...it may help those interested in "the street"...as a former photo-journalist I sill see the street full of stories to be told...and enjoy seeing the stories told here...

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BobSC Veteran Member • Posts: 4,440
Re: On judging street photography....

Kitacanon wrote:

1. Are there "standards" for judging street photography regarding lighting, and backgrounds?

I don't know about standards for photography, but there are definitely standards for editing. Browse through magazines and newspapers and there's your standard. If my images fall short, then I'd prefer not to share them.

Unless harsh light, choice of background, or unflattering pose contribute to some particular telling of the subject's (or photographer's) story, then they're generally not a good thing.

Chato
Chato Forum Pro • Posts: 47,070
Right...

MarcovM wrote:

I have seen photographs that were blurry, bad composed, had bad exposure and were full of clutter and still they were good photographs. Why ? because something in the frame made the image speak. Rules are guidelines not laws, learn the rules only to break them in finding your own style.
Marco

Most of my posted stuff is shot at night under abysmal conditions. I don't worry about the IQ aspects of any of these shots.

Do I give you a "feel" for that moment? If I do that I've succeded, if I do not, then what does the IQ matter?

This is the same guide lines that Impressionist artists use. Works for them...

Dave
--
"Everyone who has ever lived, has lived in Modern Times"

(unknown member) Senior Member • Posts: 1,471
Re: There are good duck photographers just as there are bad

Kitacanon wrote:

Great shot oneANT....

I want to thank you all for the time you've given to this discussion, and feel I should offer a thought...

If the photographer has to explain the shot (or why it was taken) then something is missing...

Ah no, you have missed something ...

The photograph is for the pleasure of the photographer (at least it used to be) and s/he knows how it was intended. Posting photos to the internet should be your study, its much more confounding than any possible topic.

People don't enjoy their photographs the same way they did pre-internet. Those now born to the internet don't know any different and while they think they represent progress and the rest of us need to 'get with it' ...they are in fact being altered from what is an important base.

I can post a picture now that some will say isn't street but its the most 'street' imbued picture that I have. In it I captured the movement of street without motion blur or panning ... but just as we have all possible levels of photographer we also have the same diversity in our on-line citizens.

Some here need to be advised what a picture is, otherwise you spend your days editing picture comments on flickr that make reference to how fond the viewer is of her breasts. Often I see pics where the viewer leaves comment on how they like her shoes, her hair and some viewers and photographers don't quite understand what a street photo is. They own a camera and lens and live in a street but the urge to just press the button is greater than the effort to understand what street is.

There is also the problem that 'street' is stuck in the golden age where on a digital pic we convert to b+w, vignette and add grain and yet we have a whole genre called urban photography but just like the title of this forum it has no place to reside but amongst the street photos. The consequence is that many growing up visit these places and see urban photography as street photography and to make matters more complicated some of the oldies don't know the difference either.

The impact of a photo comes from a sense of INTENT....weak photos seem random moments that don't communicate why the photo was taken (not to be confused with why the photographer took the photo...)

Absolutely, intent then encompasses any topic of, shadow, colour, line, juxtaposition, time, emotion, humor, art, experiment and even failure. It can be subtle and it can be simple but some viewers need a blaring horn to wake them up.

i.e. the photo's message is distinct from that of the photographer's...when it transcends the photographer, the moment becomes art

The biggest kick I get is seeing the photographer above the lens. If you use me as example, I'm always on the hunt for a giggle and if you look at my pics you'll see that the giggles have a pretty strong representation in my gallery. That I love people should also be evident ..its the way I dance and we all do it in our photos ...well except for the pixel peepers, they love their lenses more than their photos and are surrounded by walls(a pun).

The idea of art also rubs some ...

I can think of one now where the photographer is best described as the most extreme example of a data-collector with a camera. Photos are all done in grayscale and are captioned 'smoker', 'offspring' 'couple' 'couple with offspring' he absolutely refutes any possible attribute of art and abhors the very idea. He thinks everyone is a study and yet I see him as 'the study'

I think visual impact may be the key, as oneANT's shot surely does....great street photography transcends the mundane, even when shooting the mundane...and to do so the photographer must excercise even greater discipline than in the studio...

Thanks, its all downhill from this one. I have started a blog (groan) to explain this very topic. Its not self-promotion here just coincidence.

There is a trick to looking at street photos that so many are incapable of. I have seen some great street pics from places like Dubai and Morocco but they are nothing like a street pic from NY and yet some viewers cannot separate the subtleties. I have recently been looking at lunchtime grabs from some Melbourne photogs that work in the city. These have a distinct flavour again but you try and describe to someone what a banana tastes like. Even a McDonalds cheese burger in Vegas is different in taste to one in Melbourne or Shanghai.

The photographer can't use "reality" as an excuse for an incoherent uncomposed sense of randomness that the street seems to those NOT observing with such discipline, and photographing...

Agreed and yet in the pic above, most want me to edit out the man on the right and dont understand why he is there, he is critical to the pic but some don't understand.

Sometimes the photo can be for other street photographers too ...where a viewer that doesn't do street wouldn't understand. An in-joke if you like.

What I love about street is 'truth' and how you can subvert it with just a hit of truth ...

And in the pic of the girl ...she is reading a street map.

It goes in a circle and everything goes back to what I said in the beginning. The photo needs to make sense and give pleasure to the owner.

Keep ideas coming...it may help those interested in "the street"...as a former photo-journalist I sill see the street full of stories to be told...and enjoy seeing the stories told here...

I didn't mean to say so much but I need my distractions today, some bad news ...I'm a bit chatty (and more than usual, grin) ... apologies

Ant
ɹǝpun uʍop puɐl ǝɥʇ ɯoɹɟ
http://oneant.com.au

Bob Meyer Veteran Member • Posts: 5,375
Re: On judging street photography....

There are plenty of newspaper photos that are technically poor. Not as often as there used to be in today's photo-op era, but look at war photography, disaster photography, and you'll see that the image is often more important than technical excellence. For reportage, getting the shot that tells the story is more important than getting it perfect.

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jpr2 Forum Pro • Posts: 15,554
re: but then you seem...

...to be equating SP with PJ (photo journalism) - they are close, but not
necessarily the same (and both distinct - but close again - from DP,
despite our forum's caption putting them together),

jpr2

Bob Meyer wrote:

There are plenty of newspaper photos that are technically poor. Not as often as there used to be in today's photo-op era, but look at war photography, disaster photography, and you'll see that the image is often more important than technical excellence. For reportage, getting the shot that tells the story is more important than getting it perfect.

OP Kitacanon Senior Member • Posts: 2,802
re: but then you seem...

jpr2 wrote:
...to be equating SP with PJ (photo journalism) - they are close, but not
necessarily the same (and both distinct - but close again - from DP,
despite our forum's caption putting them together),

jpr2

Bob Meyer wrote:

There are plenty of newspaper photos that are technically poor. Not as often as there used to be in today's photo-op era, but look at war photography, disaster photography, and you'll see that the image is often more important than technical excellence. For reportage, getting the shot that tells the story is more important than getting it perfect.

May I suggest that the difference between street photography and journalism can be that in journalism the story precedes the photograph, where street photography creates the story...or 'discovers' the story that's already there ready to be told...

Just having fun playing with philosophy....but a bit more seriously, trying to help people who vernture into the 'street' to begin to think about storytelling...I see a lot of street photographers that tell me nothing...

I'd like my contrtibution to this forum to be helping them develop that ability to tell stories....

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OP Kitacanon Senior Member • Posts: 2,802
Re: On judging street photography....

Bob Meyer wrote:

There are plenty of newspaper photos that are technically poor. Not as often as there used to be in today's photo-op era, but look at war photography, disaster photography, and you'll see that the image is often more important than technical excellence. For reportage, getting the shot that tells the story is more important than getting it perfect.

Dont' forget composition too....very important in newspapers....

When I was on the dailies, my job was to get a horizontal, a vertical, and a square shot of the event...really...editors didn't know what space was available for photos until after all the ad space was sold! I got the leftovers...

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OP Kitacanon Senior Member • Posts: 2,802
Re: There are good duck photographers just as there are bad

Ant....

I agree with a lot of what you say....except for the idea of explaining photos to viewers...in my day on the newspaper I felt that my photos shouldn't even need a cutline/caption...it should stand alone visually telling the story the paragraphs beside it tells....

As for street photos, there is a story to be told there, but viewers may see a lot of other stories imbedded in the frame, or project a lot of their own stories in it as well...
THAT is the nature of art...

I also like being the photographer above/behind the camera lens...

It never ceases to amaze me how directly I can get people (and animals too!) to see through a lens at me and later to viewers of the photograph....it's one of my favorite aspects of photography...

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jpr2 Forum Pro • Posts: 15,554
re: about "stories" in SP

in a way... yes :). But a "story" is but one aspect of the multifaceted
adventure of SP - perhaps most naive/basic part of a class of SP images
closest to PJ (knowing your BG in PJ it is not surprising an attraction).
Usually such anecdotal stories are anchored in their times, and might
cease to be even understood when the context is gone (and thus in a
dire need of a caption/explanation = even for a contemporary viewer...
"stories" of this kind might be so deeply immersed in their cultural
context, that they cease to convey much/any meaning to the outside -
but I'm very much with you that when a photo needs to be prod with
words much of the potential magic is gone :P),

jpr2

Kitacanon wrote:

jpr2 wrote:
...to be equating SP with PJ (photo journalism) - they are close, but not
necessarily the same (and both distinct - but close again - from DP,
despite our forum's caption putting them together),

jpr2

Bob Meyer wrote:

There are plenty of newspaper photos that are technically poor. Not as often as there used to be in today's photo-op era, but look at war photography, disaster photography, and you'll see that the image is often more important than technical excellence. For reportage, getting the shot that tells the story is more important than getting it perfect.

May I suggest that the difference between street photography and journalism can be that in journalism the story precedes the photograph, where street photography creates the story...or 'discovers' the story that's already there ready to be told...

Digirame Forum Pro • Posts: 39,992
re: but then you seem...

I like that...when street photography tells a story (or is entertaining), that can make it more interesting. I take photos like that some of the time, especially at events. I'll have to think more about that one. A long time ago, I moved away from just taking pictures of people walking around, to finding some of those special images. When I see it, in a moment I think "photo op", and I quickly find myself taking the pictures.

BobSC Veteran Member • Posts: 4,440
Re: On judging street photography....

Bob Meyer wrote:

There are plenty of newspaper photos that are technically poor. Not as often as there used to be in today's photo-op era, but look at war photography, disaster photography, and you'll see that the image is often more important than technical excellence. For reportage, getting the shot that tells the story is more important than getting it perfect.

That's what I was trying to get at, but you said it better.

A recent Time magazine photo (perhaps in Libya) was technically very poor, but the photo rated two full pages.

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